State Budget News: Judge rules 24-hour protests must end but capitol must have free accessWisconsin News
-- A final group of 50 protestors sang “Solidarity Forever” as they left the State Capitol under a judge’s order last night. Five stragglers were the last to leave around 10 o’clock – and a two-week occupation of the statehouse by opponents of the governor’s proposed restrictions on public unions ended peacefully.
MADISON - A final group of 50 protestors sang “Solidarity Forever” as they left the State Capitol under a judge’s order last night. Five stragglers were the last to leave around 10 o’clock – and a two-week occupation of the statehouse by opponents of the governor’s proposed restrictions on public unions ended peacefully.
Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert ordered that by Monday, the Capitol return to its previous policy of free-and-open access whenever state business is being conducted. After hearing three days of testimony, Albert said the Walker administration violated the Constitution by hampering the right to free speech and assembly. But he agreed that the protestors violated state rules with their 24-hour camp-outs – and they had to stop as well. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch called it a fair ruling. Attorney Peg Lautenschlager told the demonstrators, quote, “We won this battle.” She represented the State Employees Union, which took this week’s tight access restrictions to court.
Some protestors wouldn’t leave until they saw the judge’s order. UW-Madison Police Chief Susan Reseling read it to them. In court, she said her officers found 41 rounds of live gun ammunition outside the Capitol yesterday. Madison firefighter David Trainor testified that police refused to let them in to help a police officer trapped in an elevator – and they used another entrance while losing valuable time. State officials said the demonstrators caused seven-and-a-half million dollars of damage to marble-and-stone in the Capitol. Much of it was tape damage from signs. But reporters noted that many demonstrators used painter’s tape which did not leave any residue after it was taken down. Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey of Madison questioned the damage figure saying quote, “That’s a lot of bottles of Formula 409.”
Governor Scott Walker says he’ll issue 15-hundred layoff notices to state employees today, if at least one Democrat doesn’t show up so the Senate can vote on his budget repair bill. The Senate’s 14 minority Democrats have stayed away from the Capitol for over two weeks to block a vote on the bill. They’re against the provision that virtually ends collective bargaining privileges for most public employee unions. Yesterday, majority Senate Republicans found the Democrats to be in contempt of their chamber – and they ordered police to find the lawmakers and bring them back if they’re spotted in Wisconsin. But Milwaukee Senate Democrat Chris Larson says he hasn’t done anything wrong, and the police can’t touch him. Some attorneys said the order is clearly unconstitutional. Walker said he delayed the layoff moves as long as possible – but he had to do something to save the $30-million in the current budget that was supposed to come from the union bargaining restrictions. He said all state workers could be potential layoff targets except those at prisons, state hospitals, and other places open 24-7. The layoffs wouldn’t begin for at least 31 days, and they could be rescinded if the bill is passed in the meantime. Walker also said he’s been talking with some of the Democrats to try and make a deal – but he won’t compromise on the collective bargaining measure or anything that would save the state money.
State Senate Democrat Bob Jauch says he’s given up hope that more Republicans will jump ship on the governor’s plan to limit public union bargaining. Three Republicans would have to vote with the minority Democrats to strike down the bargaining provisions. But only Dale Schultz of Richland Center has broken ranks with his GOP. And Jauch – the veteran senator from Poplar – says he no longer believes Democrats can convince two other Republicans to compromise. As a result, he says the bill’s opponents will have to look for other ways to protect unionized public employees. Jauch told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quote, “In order to kill this bill, we could never go home – that’s not practical, and most people realize it.” Senators have been away from the Capitol for 15 days to block a vote on the measure. Republican Governor Scott Walker says he has talked with Democrats about compromising in other areas, but he won’t compromise on a virtual end to collective bargaining powers for most public unions. Senate Republicans have placed Democrats in contempt of the chamber for being away so long. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says they face a variety of punishments when they return, including expulsion. But that’s not likely, since Republicans don’t have the two-thirds support they would need to toss out a Democrat. Censures or reprimands are more likely, since they only require a simple majority.
Governor Scott Walker insists that he’s not out to kill public employee unions. But labor leaders disagree, as they highlight some of the little-known aspects of Walker’s budget repair bill that virtually ends bargaining powers for all but police-and-fire unions. Groups could no longer negotiate their working conditions – only wages at-or-below inflation. The measure would end payroll deductions for union dues. Employees who don’t want to be part of an agency’s union would no longer have to pay dues. Unions would have to hold re-certification votes every year, and 51-percent of all its members must say yes – and not a simple majority of those voting. Massachusetts-Boston professor James Green told the Wisconsin State Journal it would be impossible to sustain unions if only a couple of those measures go into place. UW-Madison professor emeritus Dennis Dresang said the bill would make union membership meaningless – and he wonders who would want to pay union dues for such few benefits. But Walker says the changes are vital for cutting state-and-local labor costs. He says unions would have to prove their value. And for many employees, Walker says the lack of union dues would off-set the higher amounts they’d have to pay toward their health insurance and pensions. Without the changes, Walker says he’d have to lay off thousands of state workers. He says it’s the last thing he wants to do – but he plans to issue 1,500 layoff notices today if Democratic senators don’t return to vote on his proposals.
Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach found a way to get around the requirement that he must show up at the Capitol to get paid. Majority Republicans voted to stop depositing the paychecks in the senators’ checking accounts, so Democrats would have to come back and vote on Walker’s budget repair bill. But Erpenbach gave two of his staff members a legal “power of attorney,” and it allowed them to pick up his check. When they asked for it, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald mailed it to Erpenbach’s home in Middleton. Spokesman Andrew Welhouse said Fitzgerald decided not to pick a fight or quote, “bog down the process any more than it actually is already.” Erpenbach said the paycheck process and similar measures have nothing to do with the budget. He and the Senate’s 13 other Democrats have stayed away from the Capitol for 15 days to block a vote on the bill that would limit public union bargaining powers.